IBM Thinkpad T40

I got my hands on one of those new T40 model Thinkpads from IBM and I thought, I should post a little review here.

I was working on a T23 for a very long time, so I quite used to that machine. This review will focus on the changes between the models, but will provide a good overview for you users without knowledge of the T23.

Outside
The new Thinkpad comes with a new flatter but bigger TrackPoint which I don’t really like, but this may be a matter of getting used to (if not: IBM provides you with the old cap, but I’m really trying to use the new one as it is built from plastic which does not get so dirty during common usage). Additionally, the T40 has a standard TrackPad for those users that do not like the TrakPoint (I am definitely not one of them. Although nothing feels as good as a trackball, the trackpoint is a real cool thing and I was a bit disappointed to see IBM putting an additional trackpad there).

As usual, the keyboard is just great. This time, it’s even a bit better, but I am not sure whether this is just because it’s new or because IBM really changed something. What I really, really, really hate about the new keyboard are those Back- an Forward keys above the left- and right cursor keys. I used the empty space around “up” to orientate myself (down was where there was no free space around). So I am constantly hitting “up” when I meant “down” and – even worse: those senseless keys instead left or right. I really hope, I will get used to this or I will have to plug an external keyboard (programming is a quite cursor-intensive task).

The Volume- and the “Thinkpad” (now renamed to “Access IBM”)-Buttons got smaller and have more spacing between them, making it easyier to hit them in the dark.

The status LED’s went from above the keyboard to below the display and are much more visible now. Good thing. Additionally, the Scroll Lock indicator was removed. In Windows it does not make sense anyway (while a missing indicator may be very disturbing in Linux as Scroll Lock quite locks down the console if it’s on). They added another LED indicating that the Notebook is powered. Not so important.

When the display is closed, only three leds are visible: Battery, Sleep and Bluetooth (why bluetooth and not WLAN or both?).

The whole device got a little flatter than the previous model. Extremely flat would be a good term to describe the T40. This unfortunatly breaks compatibility with older UltraBay Extensions (Batteries and Drives) as the new one is slightly flatter.

The T40 is the first Thinkpad where the ThinkLight (a small white LED at the top of the display to enlighten the keyboard when working in dark places) is really useful. It got bright.

Where the connectors where on the back at my T23, they went to the side of the device at the T40 – just the paralell port and the AC plug are at the back (and the big extended battery providing the computer with enough power for about 5 to 6 hours). The COM-Port went away. I liked it for the developement of our barcode solution, but the scanner we uase has an USB cable and USB-to-serial adaptors do exist.

The PCMCIA slots went to the front – the audio plugs (now color-coded) to the back. I don’t really like this as I am plugging audio equipement much more often than PCMCIA cards).

Speaking of Audio: It’s really not that bad for a notebook, but not noticably better than in my T23.

Running the thing

When you turn it on, the first thing you notice is that it is calm. But the Thinkpads have a tendency to grew louder as you use them, so the T40 will probably go louder in a few months too…

The BIOS cannot be accessed directly any more. Instead something called “Predesktop Area” can be reached by pressing the “Access IBM” button during bootup sequence. The PA is something that can be controlled by the mouse and allows access to the recovery system, to the BIOS (a standard textmode one), to a partition imager (without suport for external storage) and quite extensive support material. The whole thing eats up quite a lot of harddrive space in a hidden partition (which I have not removed so far but I will not like the outcome as I certainly have read the Service Manual and all those scary error messages about an inaccessible service-partition. Maybe sometime later ;-)

The first thing I did was to reinstall a clean retail Windows XP Professional – I do not like all those customizations the vendors do to the OS these days. This went flawlessly besides the fact that the setup routine did not recognize most of the hardware: No Newtork, standard VGA, no Power Management, no nothing.

The IBM Support Area on their website provided me with all the drivers I needed (and only those I needed – not a lot of useless tools).

The bluetooth-support must be turned on by pressing Fn-F5 which is documented nowhere. It’s a (integrated) USB-Device, by the way: When turining on Bluetooth for the first time (after installing the driver, of course), Windows reports to have found a new USB device.

The bluetooth software is provided by WIDCOM (as nearly always) and comes in the really current version 1.3.something.

The driver for the trackpad is a really great piece of software as it allows quite a lot of tuining to your habits. I really like this scrolling-feature where a scrolling event in the windows the mouse cursor is currently over is triggered just by moving your finger around the right border of the pad. Nice.

The WLAN Support of the T40 is the first I came across that worked without any tweaking in more than one wireless network. Cool. Maybe the time is ready for endusers to use WLAN?

The expirience with the notebook is a very pleasing one: It’s fast, stable and looks great.

If you can spare the money (IBM notebooks certainly are more expensive than others but they work better and have three years of warranty), you should go and buy yourself a T40 – it’s a great piece of hardware.